Friday, August 9, 2013

Do Nosso Fundo De Quintal

Well, reader(s), if you have managed to stick through with this blog to the end, then I hope you can now get on with your life, knowing that my blog has given you a sense of closure, completeness, maybe even...inner peace?

All jokes aside, this is my last blog post for this trip, but I must say that I have enjoyed it and want to do more blogging in the future. We'll see if I have time for anything this year, but certainly in the future.

Rio de Janeiro has been the location of amazing adventures, relaxing hangouts, and the beginning of so many friendships. All of the people I have met through the program (students and staff, alike) have been fantastic friends, fun companions for daring to extend outside my comfort zone, and they have all bettered my worldview and life for the diverse experiences and backgrounds they brought to this trip. I only hope that we all remain in contact.

Top 5 things I will miss about Rio/Brazil:

1. Fruits/juices -- yes, they exist in the U.S. too, but the pureness of the fruit here is incomparable (you actually have to add sugar rather than being bombarded with sweetness) and the accessibility (nearly every corner of every street) is unparalleled.

2. My host mom, Nilda -- living where I did was a wonderful experience. Nilda was always nice, patient, and caring, not to mention a stellar cook.

3. Pipoca, churros, and other delectable/cheap treats available across the beachside walk -- or less than a dollar, you can have the best churro ever made, complete with caramel or chocolate.

4. Maracujá caipirinhas -- while these are easy enough to make in their original lime flavor, it will be hard to duplicate the passion fruit ones.

5. All of the natural beauty, to which I am now practically desensitized -- seeing the most beautiful beaches surrounded by majestic mountains every day has made them seem almost commonplace. Though Madison is lovely, it will be an adjustment when I get back to the more gentle geography this week.

Top 5 things I'm fine to be leaving in Brazil: 

1. The traffic of Rio -- It will be nice returning to a place where traffic signals are actually obeyed, cars drive in lanes, and motorcyclists don't weave their way through cars. Every time I see that, I fear that one opened car door will extinguish a life swiftly.

2. Those random street corners that just smell like poop -- no further description needed. Gross!

3. The vast majority of everything being overpriced -- and if it's not overpriced, it is probably fake or artificial.

4. No public bathrooms or drinking fountains -- I've only found one public water fountain, and it was in the naval museum, somewhat appropriately.

5. Ham for breakfast, every breakfast -- I'm so ready for my all-American breakfast of dry cereal and calcium-infused OJ.

I finally was able to play with a bateria this week. My friend Daniel and I went to the Fundição Progresso in Lapa to take a free class with Bangala Fumenga and we loved it. Daniel had not played percussion formally, but still enjoyed working out the caixa (snare drum) rhythms with me and some other sambistas. My only regret about the experience was that we hadn't gone there sooner.

Today, my last full day in Brazil, I walked about a mile to the Lagoa, which is Rio's main lake. Upon seeing the lake, I was struck with an intense feeling of what Brazilians call saudade. There is no direct translation for this word, but it essentially means an intense longing in which the person is both happy to have the memories and missing whatever is the subject of those memories. For me, my saudades had a double subject. I was already missing Brazil, even though I hadn't left it yet, and remembering all the good times I've had here. At the same time, looking at this beautiful (but somewhat understated, for the other natural beauty in this area) lake made me think about the city to which I am returning. Having been away for six weeks, I know I will have to adjust to a few things when I come back, but I'm ready to face the many challenges this year will bring, and have fun in doing so.

Before I put an end to this Brazil blog business, I want to review my initial three goals.

1. Stop obsessing over how much sleep I get. -- Well, I haven't been nearly as worried about it, but at the same time, I have still been getting around 8 hours of sleep on weeknights. However, I have been averaging 4 on weekends, with a substantial helping of naps sprinkled in there. I am happy to say that I haven't been worrying about sleep amounts at all. Therefore, my nights out have been more fun as a whole.

2. Learn how to dance (or at least begin this arduous task). -- Ok, to be fair, I started pretty low on the talent chart, but I do definitely feel that I've improved and gained confidence, especially with Brazilian samba/forró dancing as well as salsa. With hip-hop and American music, it can still be hard to maintain that dancing intensity, but I'm ready to continue this long-term project back in the states. 

3. Explore. -- I probably could have done a bit more of exploring on my own, but I am very proud of how much I branched out with my friends. Whether on the beach, with the nightlife, or in the city centers and neighborhoods, we intrepidly set out to discover special places and natural wonders, uncertain of exactly how to get there, and sometimes we would be unable to find them. But even on those occasions, we broke out of our comfort zones and strengthened our friendships. 

Well, this blog seems somewhat incomplete, in that I never filled you in on the other things I did the last week of my trip, but I'd be happy to tell you in person. Am I lazy? Maybe. Do I feel that I'm saying in this blog post what's important about this last week/my trip as a whole? Definitely.

Me enjoying the Jardín Botánico in Botafogo last week. Beautiful gardens!
(Also, thanks for reading. I hope you got something out of it. Some of the posts were funnier than others. Some were raunchier or included inside jokes and obscure music/pop culture references, but I hope you were inspired to check out some of them to understand what I meant. If not, that's fine too.)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Explode Coração

Hello blog readers. Before I go any further, I'd like to apologize for slacking off on this whole blog thing. I suppose I've been too busy to document the trip as meticulously as I was at the beginning. As I begin to write this post, I have only eight full days left of this trip, and they will be jam-packed with activities, gift buying, and the finest fruit juices. As a result, this may be my second-to-last (or last?!?) post in what has been a fun blog to write. I'll try to make these last few posts count, because you're worth it (yes, you).

I know how much everyone likes random lists! Here are some.

Top 5 music/location combinations of the last week: 

1. "Let That Show" by The Pernice Brothers/ Praia Manguinhos -- this poppy, jangly break-up song provided the perfect sonic backdrop to a pensive beach walk in Buzios. As the sun set on the painted boats and the lavish summer homes, the lyrics "a big wheel was turning/ a great gap was burgeoning" really resonated.

2. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band/ Bus Ride from Buzios back to Rio -- Passing through the favelas off the highway, seeing literally thousands of small paper kites (called pipas here) flying from the shanty houses and grassy areas, I began thinking about the so-called 'American Dream' (given how the album practically is the US if it could make a rock album) and how I would define a 'Brazilian Dream' as an outsider who had spent a small amount of time here. My profound soliloquy was interrupted when I saw a chubby little kid jumping on a trampoline right off the highway and waving to all the cars. It was pretty funny, for some reason.

3. "Suck", "Stutter" by Yuck/ Copacabana in the early morning -- one night, I woke up two hours before my alarm went off. Unable to go back to bed, I perused my iPod and decided upon one of my current favorite albums: Yuck, by Yuck. This 90's revival British band soothed my half-asleep, perplexed mind and allowed me one more REM cycle before having to go to class.

4. St. Vincent (various songs)/ lazy afternoon in our condo at Buzios -- The inventive melodies and irresistible voice of Annie Clark accompanied my logic puzzles as I waited for dinner after a beachside morning.

5. "Untitled" by Interpol segueing into Game Theory by The Roots/ That giant-ass bridge traversing the Guanabara Bay -- This is getting eerily specific, but somehow, the switch from moody guitar textures to vindictive verses of the gritty truths of inner city Philadelphia seemed to fit the low-key frenzy of a late night bus ride out of the city, recently infested with hordes of Catholics, ready to see Pope Francis.

Top 5 fruits I've had in Brazil:

1. Mango (Manga)
2. Strawberry (Morango)
3. Passion Fruit (Maracujá)
4. Guava (Goiaba)
5. Papaya (mamão) -- If Lisa and Ty are reading this, they're probably confused, but I guess I like this fruit now?

Top 5 beers I'm missing here in "the land of mediocre beer" (this is what their flag says, for those of you who don't speak Portuguese):

1. Lake Louie Warp Speed
2. Bell's Two Hearted
3. New Glarus Fat Squirrel
4. Ale Asylum Hopalicious
5. Lagunitas WTF

My thoughts, when I see another American here in Rio (one who isn't in the program):

Wait, what is SHE/HE doing here? God, speak portuguese, don't be such a tourist! Oh wait...I suppose I have been speaking english here as a tourist. But I'm better than them, right? Because at least I'm learning the language! Well, I guess I don't really know whether they know it or not. But come on! I was here before it was cool! Well, for all I know, they could be perfectly bilingual Brazilians. Man I could really go for a mango and some Lake Louie Warp Speed right now...

As you can see, my strong reactionary side and my rational, tolerant side have to hash it out upon seeing another gringo.

So, let me tell you a brief tale about Buzios.

In Buzios, we bought our own food at the grocery store (this was the first time that my host mom hadn't provided the meals for the day, which meant that I could finally not have ham for breakfast) and the cereal selection was subpar. I don't think cereal is much of a thing here. Of course, my traveling companions flipped out when they realized I don't use milk in my cereal. (A side note: being a non-cheese eater here is harder than I though it would be, but not nearly as hard as it is for my roommate Kegan, who is a vegetarian.)

We were fortunate to stay for free at one of my friend's host mom's condo very close to the beach. The unfortunate part is that the condo was designed for about 4 people to stay there, not 8. Despite this, we made the most of it, and had a fun time. The weather, albeit a little chilly, was mostly sunny for the long weekend, so we had some nice beach walks. The night life seemed limited, but fun. I avoided going to a club the last night we were there, because it cost 150 reais (about 75 dollars) to enter. My friends who did go ended up staying until 6:00 in the morning or something crazy like that. While I have been staying up later this trip (my initial goals will be addressed in the last blog post), that was too much for me.

Somehow, I ended up watching about five movies over the four days we were there, and let me tell you. Don't feel the need to see Drive Angry, starring Nic Cage. Ditto The Lady in Black with Daniel Radcliffe. Also, Death Race kinda sucks. Zombieland is pretty good. I also think that rom-coms have the potential to become an unhealthy addiction. They certainly aren't for me, but they portray life and romance in such a asinine way that your desire for things to work out that easily makes you think that you like such movies.

The last night in Buzios, the mosquitos attacked. Five days later, I'm still dealing with the aftermath. For a few days, I had a bite on my wrist the size of a small mound of mashed potatoes. Speaking of which, the potatoes here are really good, and the french fries actually taste like potatoes. (I don't really know why I'm all about food for this post. I just ate dinner...)

As you may be able to guess from my musical top 5 above, I really enjoyed the bus rides to and from Buzios. It offered time for air-conditioned contemplation, naps, and some of the most interesting contrasts in rural scenery and shoddy suburbs.

Upon getting back, we found Copacabana to be completely closed off to cars, buses, and taxis (due to the pope's World Youth Day). The metrô was similarly stymied, so we were forced to walk from Botafogo. If I hadn't had to carry my luggage for the 2-mile journey, it would have been quite fun, because we were able to walk down the city streets, through the mountain tunnels, against the heavy pedestrian traffic of international Catholic youths, who had seen the pope speak on the beach that morning. Unfortunately, toting the luggage made the walk a long slog and upon returning, I exhaustedly slumped down on my bed, ready to sleep for 12 hours straight.

Since this tired juncture, I have felt reinvigorated. I owe part of this newfound energy to the trip and getting out of the hectic city for a while. I owe part of it to the fact that this trip is almost over, both in that I'm excited to get back to the end of Madison's summer, and in that with my numbered days here, there is still so much to do!

This week so far, I have been to a fun samba gathering with one of the professors in the program and some fellow students in the program, I have traveled to Niteroi (read: the New Jersey to Rio's New York) and seen historic forts, and I attended a Brazilian soccer game at Maracanã. Of these events, I will say that they were all awesome, and I'd be happy to tell you about them in more detail when I see you next. Well, maybe I'll tell you about the soccer game during the next blog post, because it was pretty awesome.

That's all for now, friends and family.
Here is me next to a painted sewer pipe in Santa Tereza. It says Amar Mais, or Love More. I encourage you to follow its advice.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vem No Tambor

Well, it's hard to believe I've been here for three weeks already. That means that my trip is halfway over, and while I'm excited to return to those Madison summer nights on the Memorial Union terrace, I will miss this Brazilian winter, the magical city, and the amazing people I've met. But this is all premature, because I still have three more weeks, so no need to get all weepy just yet. Each new day brings fun experiences, intensive Portuguese, and a perpetual opening of my mind. I will start by saying something that I can't reiterate enough. I'm very fortunate to be here. Granted, I did work very hard in applying to the program and applying for aid, but there are many people just as qualified or more qualified who won't get to experience such an amazing trip abroad, so I am aware of that and very humbled to be here.

As some of you know, this is my first of two trips to Brazil this year. I will be returning at the very end of the year (and into 2014) to conduct research for my senior thesis, in which I analyze the western study of Brazilian samba and the sociological and academic implications surrounding the transfer of this music from locals to foreigners. To get a sense of samba here in Rio, and because I would do it even if I weren't researching it formally, I have been trying to attend performances and acquire contacts to work with this winter. The faculty of the program has been very helpful in hooking me up with people in the samba sphere, and thanks to a few of my language professors, I was able to attend a feijoada party at the famous samba escola, Salgueiro, last weekend. The experience was unforgettable for so many reasons, and at this point in my trip, I consider it a clear highlight.

The gathering began around one, but due to the normal miscommunications, my friends and I didn't arrive at the escola until about three. After taking the metrô almost to the end of the line, we ended up in a neighborhood called Tijuca. We walked through a very different (generally more rundown) part of town to reach Andarai, where the escola was located. The building in which one of the most famous samba schools in the city practices, performs, and holds events reminds me of a mix between a high school gymnasium and a food court. A huge, open place with painted walls and an upper deck where many people could watch the performance in seats. When we got there, the main dancing floor was filled with members of the community eating feijoada, as well as a few of the IBEU professors. After enjoying a delicious and hearty lunch, the performers took the stage and the entertainment began.

The first act was a very solid, standard pagode band, and I noticed a few interesting things about the way they played. For one thing, they never counted any songs off; they seemed to just come in randomly based off a quasi-beatbox vocalization of the beat from whoever was singing the given tune. For another thing, the crowd knew every lyric to every song! This applied to all three performing groups, and it really impressed me. I wonder if the songs played were mostly unique to Salgueiro, or whether everyone just knows a certain set of pagode/popular Brazilian songs. I also enjoyed hearing the pagode group play one of my favorite 'classics,' "E preciso muito amor" by Chico da Silva.

The next group was comprised of many drummers, a few guitar/cavaco players, but also a very impressive female lead singer who captivated the audience with her stage presence. She interacted heavily with the doting audience and even shared a duet with another brilliant singer. I can't speak highly enough of the performance level of these groups. Also, the instruments were much better balanced in the speakers than I've heard pagode ensembles before -- usually the groups back home have a hard time mic'ing everything correctly. Perhaps the acoustics of the room made this happen.

Then came the bateria. For those of you who don't know what that means, this was the headlining group, a giant band composed of different drums, shakers, and a few guitars/cavaquinhos, as well as about four lead singers. These are the types of groups that parade down the streets during Carnaval, and can have as many as 400 drummers in them, not to mention just as many dancers. Each bateria represents one escola de samba (samba school) and these schools are mainly composed of community members, who vary greatly in age. For example, I saw a middle-aged man playing the same instrument as an eight-year old girl. Both of them were playing tamborim, which is arguably the hardest one to play, and both were kicking equal amounts of ass in doing so. These schools give back to the communities that support them, and Salgueiro's facility had an athletic field and a pool where local kids were hanging out that day. Given that many of the escolas are in favelas (shanty-towns), they represent a very positive way of rising up as a people and working to create a better quality of life for the community. As the members were walking out, a few began to play, and I thought they were just warming up. On the contrary, this turned out to be the beginning of the show, and before I knew it, the singers and guitarists had joined in and they were playing an enredo (song that gets performed at Carnaval). To hear this group play "Vem no tambor," the enredo that the UW group performed at the international convention my freshman year, was surreal. It would be like watching the original lineup of Led Zeppelin perform "Stairway to Heaven". The members of the bateria seemed to be having so much fun, too! Smiles seemed to bounce off the members of the group and they executed the difficult, intricate breaks in the songs to perfection. The professional quality of the bands coupled with the skyrocketing energy of the crowd made this show one of the most memorable and enjoyable I have ever seen. Taking the metrô home that night, my friends and I couldn't stop smiling from all the positive energy floating around from the show.

The week since this experience has been relatively chill. Apart from a fun hike (in which we had to hike down a treacherously steep path in the dark), an exhilarating and exhausting game of beach soccer with some locals (in which I didn't make a complete fool of myself) and a cool nightclub (in which samba musicians played along with top 40 American hits) there isn't much to tell. I will conclude with a few random observations recently made by me:

I think something fishy is going on with my host mom: she's really nice and takes care of us and everything, but on any given night, at least two men stay the night, and it's not always the same two men. There's this rotating cast of characters, and I'm pretty sure she has introduced one of them as her husband and one as her boyfriend...also sometimes the room down the hall reeks of weed. I'm not trying to make any judgments, but I'm just a little confused.

I still can't really speak Portuguese that well: more often than not, I have to smile and nod politely, so hopefully they're not asking me to give them all my money.

Still a little mad about the soap: let's put a little more soap in that soap/water mix!

Going to a beach house this weekend! Probably won't be internet, so it will be nice to be cut off from everything, including that godforsaken Pope who ruined my Monday night. See you on the other side!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Panis et Circences

It's been a relatively long time since I last blogged (still less than a week, but relatively, a long time) so as you can imagine, a lot has happened since. Given that the week afternoons/nights have mostly consisted of homework, practicing (damn placement audition!), Archer, and running, I'll skip to Friday's events. But first, a diversion!

Some of my favorite words in Portuguese:

Pique-nique: picnic. This word showcases the fact that almost no word in the language ends with a hard consonant. Instead, an 'ee' sound gets added. This usually applies to English words adopted into the language. Other examples include internet (pronounced internetchy), milkshake (pronounced milky-shakey), Facebook (pronounced facey-bookey), and Brad Pitt (pronounced Bradgey Pitchy).

X-burguer: cheeseburger. The letter x is pronounced 'sheece' in Portuguese, so I'll let you conclude why this is the way it is. Sometimes, they just write cheeseburger.

nocautear: to knock someone out in a fight.

Some of my new favorite albums: 

Napalm Dream by Tenement
Os Mutantes by Os Mutantes
The Smiths by The Smiths

Some albums that I've been listening to quite a bit, even if they're not so new on my radar:

The World Won't End by The Pernice Brothers
Autumn of the Seraphs by Pinback
Pinkerton by Weezer
Fear of Music by The Talking Heads

Even though that has nothing to do with Brazil (except for Os Mutantes), it's a big part of my trip, so I felt it necessary to share. So on Friday....

My language class went with the advanced class to Centro, which is an historic neighborhood north of Copacabana. This trip offered a few new experiences.  For one, I rode the metrô for the first time. Composed essentially of two subway lines, the system/facilities seemed very clean and efficient, and in the three times I've used it, I haven't had to wait more than 1 minute for a train to come. Another aspect I appreciated was finally getting into a quintessentially urban part of the city. Don't get me wrong; Copacabana is certainly a very indicative part of the city, but it seems almost like a ritzy tourist community. There are no business centers, no cultural outlets, with few exceptions. Almost everything is storefronts or high-rise apartments. Centro is home to many of the old colonial buildings, abundant with museums, and a definite business center in a city not so focused on business.

Our group got coffee and sweets at a very famous confeitaria (Colombo) and visited an amazing old library. If you have ever seen Beauty and the Beast, think of that library, and you will have a good idea. We also looked at the oldest Catholic church in the city and hung around Praza 15, which is a big outdoor space with a big statue and it overlooks part of the harbor of Rio. Adjacent is the old imperial palace, where Dom Pedro and Dom Pedro II (the two kings of Brazil from the 19th century) lived.  I felt much more connected with the city after visiting this area.  We also had feijoada for lunch! This is a big bean stew with all sorts of meat bits (some more appealing than others) that is served with rice, farofa (a popular grain), pork skins, and kale. As the national dish of Brazil, it is quotidian on weekends at most restaurants, and tastes pretty delicious. After lunch, a couple of friends and I split from the group and toured the Naval Museum, which was free. It was interesting, but I feel no need to describe it to you. Suffice it to say that it was informative, nautical, and very patriotic.

After coming back to Copa from Centro, I went to a friend's house to watch a Portuguese romantic comedy called Se Eu Fosse Você (If I Were You). Although we had Portuguese subtitles on, I was very proud that I could understand the whole thing. That night, my friends and I had a fun time conversing and hanging out at a bar overlooking the ocean.  It has been very fun getting to know the other students in this program. I hope to maintain our friendship after the program ends.

Saturday held a few new, fun experiences as well, even though it started with an incredible bummer. My group agreed to meet outside a metrô station, and I thought I knew where it was. After walking a few streets, I started to second guess my sense of direction. I really should have google mapped the street, because as it turns out, I turned around and walked in the opposite direction one street too early! In fact, if I had been on the ball and looked farther down the street, I could have seen my friends waiting for me. Instead, I walked about half a mile in the other direction before doubling back yet again. Eventually, I found my friends (actually, they found me) and we set off about an hour late. This instance highlighted two important things about this trip.

1. We take cellphones for granted. Without anyone having a cellphone, my friends and I have had to be much more detailed in making plans, either in person or on facebook. Wi-fi is hard to come by, so plans are hard to change if an unforeseen obstacle arises (like me being a bonehead).

2. Just because I think I know this neighborhood, I should remember that I've only been here for a little more than two weeks, and I can still get lost. Speaking of which, to the best of my knowledge, I've now been out of Madison for the longest amount of continuous time in my life. It isn't a lot, but I can definitely tell, and I do miss those 77 square miles.

Aaaaaaaaaand we're back. My friends and I took the metrô to Santa Teresa, an older, more upscale, tourist-friendly neighborhood near Centro. After enjoying some delicious Apfelstrudel at a German-themed restaurant, we walked around the hilly neighborhood. This place was amazing! So many incredible vistas, lavish houses mounted high off the sidewalks/streets, and some of the most vivid, captivating street art I have ever laid eyes on. My friend John would probably love it, but I'm sure he's having the time of his life in Italy as I type.

That night, a bigger group met up at a bar in the hip Leblon area of town. After a few caipirinhas, we headed to Lapa for some salsa dancing. Out of my three initial goals (see blog post 1), I was the least confident about getting better at dancing, but the opportunities have actually been abundant! In fact, a few fellow students in the program, Celia and Elsa, helped me learn some basic salsa moves, and I had a lot of fun. When I return, I hope to try my luck at some salsa/samba dances, because when you know a little about what you're doing it can be very entertaining! Plus, I love the music, and I feel that to fully understand it, you need to know how to both dance and play it.

More on samba dancing for the next post, in which I visit the Samba Escola de Salgueiro for some feijoada! Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Morô Omim Má

I still haven't told you about Saturday yet. In many ways, this day was the most quintessentially 'carioca' so far. After getting home at about four in the morning coming back from Lapa, I slept in until almost noon, which is something I nearly never do. I guess this Brazilian way of life is getting to me! Or perhaps I am still recovering from two weeks with little sleep. Either way. Here is me staring directly at the sun (proving that it's not that bad for your eyes if you're wearing some sunglasses!

Enough foolishness. After meeting up with other IBEU students and Rayssa, a young Brazilian woman who is friends with the host family who hosted the churrasco on Friday night, I went to Ipanema beach one neighborhood over (the neighborhood is also called Ipanema! Notice a pattern?) and readied myself to face an old nemesis. 

In my first post, I told you that I don't always do well at beaches. And by 'don't always' I really mean 'do never.' As the fairest-skinned white boy on this planet, I know that I will burn no matter how often I apply sunscreen and how high the SPF is. As well as that, I don't find sand comfortable to lie on, and YES I do use a towel. The water can be fun, but that only takes you so far. Once that's done, you're left with another three hours of waiting for the other people in your group to get tired of the beach. For those of you doubting my scornful judgment of beaches, let me just tell you that I spent 16 summers of my life taking in the scenic beaches of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. It's a stupid thing to complain about, because beaches are very fun for almost everyone, and are often a sign of privilege. I very much realize how lucky I am to have been to the beach so many times. I certainly am an American used to the cushy gilded life. Any of my family currently in Massachusetts reading this shouldn't judge me too quickly, just read the following paragraph!

The point is, maybe I'm just fickle about these things, because my attitude completely changed back to one of beach adoration at Ipanema! The sand was smooth (not a trace of glass or litter, despite the thousands of people who visit it every day), the waves were perfect for body surfing, and the sun wasn't too bad, although I did get burned, despite applying sunscreen three times over five hours. My time at the beach reminded me of the old days when I was a young kid on the Vineyard, full of whimsy and without a care in the world. (For those of you that know me, it may be hard to imagine this. It is for me too.) The point is, maybe I have been too hard on beaches. They're pretty fun, when you let them be. And when they're the most famous beach in the world. 

We walked back to Copacabana down the beach front and stopped at Arpoador, the small peninsula separating the two neighborhoods. This point is known for being one of the only places you can see the sun set from the water in east-facing Rio. We barely missed the sunset, but the view was still fantastic. Additionally, I saw a few pagode groups playing in the outdoor beachside bars, and it made me miss the Monday night pagode sessions with my friends back home. Hopefully, I'll get the chance to play some repique de mão or rebolo while I'm here. On that subject, most of the locals I've talked to view pagode (acoustic samba) as a lame genre, but many of those same people love Coldplay, U2, and Bon Jovi. All value judgments aside, many people consider those bands lame in the US, so it makes for an interesting juxtaposition. 

After the beach walk and a quick dinner/shower combo (not at the same time of course!!!), my friends went back to Ipanema with Rayssa. She took us to her favorite bar: an 'Irish pub' called Shenanigans. For fans of the movie Super Troopers, this name should provoke suspicion, but don't worry, Rod wasn't there. However, he must have been the only one not to go, because the sizably large place was packed wall-to-wall! Our group barely had any dancing/standing/breathing/drink-ordering room, and it made the experience somewhat frustrating. At this point, I was very exhausted from a day in the sun and a lack of sleep from the previous night, so my award-winning dancing skills were subpar anyways. The highlights of the night consisted of nachos, a suave Brazilian man playing some solid covers of American/British songs (Stand By Me, Wonderwall, Valerie, and a bunch of other very predictable ones), and watching Anderson Silva go down in the second round in the big UFC fight live with a bunch of horror-struck locals. After the fight ended, we departed quickly, making sure that no one recognized that we were Americans, like the man who had just defeated the great Silva. 

Since the fun-filled weekend, the time has been flying by, and more exciting things have happened. For one, I skyped my family! It was nice to see my grandparents, some aunts and uncles, and my cute cousins, as well as my parents and sister. I also have been running along Copacabana today and yesterday. The views are beautiful and the weather is very conducive to running. I have high hopes for the next four-and-a-half weeks, and the only thing I need to start doing is preparing for UW orchestra auditions, which I will have little time to do when I get back. 

That's all for now. Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Deixa Vida Me Levar

Here is me chilling with Cristo Redentor. We had a good time and, like most of the people I've met in Brazil, he welcomed me with open arms.

A note on photos: my cell phone is having trouble picking up wireless networks, so I probably won't be uploading any of my own pictures on this blog, or anywhere, until I get back. If you want to see some more photos, other people on the trip have been taking them in abundance and they are available on the facebook.

Ok, so this weekend was awesome, first of all. I will most certainly have to make a two-part post about it, because so many cool things happened. A few small observations first:

Teachers here also have technology problems: My professors can't seem to work youtube, powerpoint, and can't deal with waiting more than 0 seconds for a link/video to load without refreshing it to death. This could have something to do with the faulty wi-fi, but I think it has more to do with impatience.

The written abbreviation for beijos (kisses) is bjs: This one is for my former (and future) roommates. Kisses, anyone?

Almost every new and old popular pop/rock song that people sing along to in American bars gets sung along to here as well: People LOVE "Best of You" by the Foo Fighters. Also, I met a woman who said that she was friends with Zac Brown (of country stardom) and had taken him into her house multiple times when he was alone in Brazil. I'll take her at her word.

Re-iteration -- CRAZY DRIVERS: I can't say this enough. There are lanes dividing the roads, but no one seems to follow them. When people stop at lights, they stop midway through turning, and motorcycles seem to not stop for anything. I can't understand why I haven't seen an accident yet, but just know that anyone used to U.S. driving would not last two seconds on these streets.

Current musical pursuits: I have been toying with the African instrument I brought (called an mbira or kalimba, depending on who you ask; you may know it as a thumb piano) to practice a piece for my senior recital. I consider it one of my few connections to Madison while I'm here, the other big one being the internet. Also, my best friend Tyler showed me the album MCII by Mikal Cronin, which I have been loving. Good places and adventures are always heightened by music to accompany them.

Strange cravings: Yesterday, I had an uncontrollable urge for white chocolate croissants and watching every James Bond movie back-to-back. I might just do the latter today, as it is a rest day. The food craving reminded me of my friend Zou Zou who often craves a very particular food.

That's enough of that. So, on Friday, we celebrated the Festa Junina, a folk festival that takes place in various forms over the months of June and July. Essentially, our group had some good corn-based food, something that reminded me of horchatas, and hot dogs on a stick. We then danced some quadriles, which is kind of like a circular square dance with a caller telling us things that we couldn't understand. For those that know me well, I'm a stellar dancer even when I do know what I'm doing, so obviously this was no problem, and I'll probably go pro next week.

My reward for that traumatizing experience was a trip to Corcovado (giant mountain with stone Jesus statue!)! This trip began with a visit to the chic neighborhood of Lapa (more on this area later) and the steps of Selarón. You have probably seen these really awesome mosaic steps before on the internet or in tourist books. Every step of the giant staircase is covered in colorful tiles and unique pictures.  One man (who, sadly, was found dead on his own steps earlier this year) designed the whole thing in the 1990s.  I was amazed at the detail and how seamlessly the art was embedded into the city. I may go back at some point, because I was unable to appreciate it fully, given our group's time constraints. While there, a man and a little girl were juggling a soccer ball and making it look like the easiest thing in the world. The girl couldn't have been more than seven or eight, but she was killing it! The man was less surprising, but he was also fantastic with his futebol prowess. I have a great video of this, but alas, my phone isn't cooperating currently. My friends and I gladly purchased some water for these two after watching them for a while.

Following this juncture, we arrived at the waiting area of the big mountain. Our guide left (presumably to go get money) but didn't tell any of the students, leaving us standing around confused. Thankfully, she returned after ten minutes. We boarded a little tour bus and ascended the steep slopes of Corcovado.  The road was windy, and I had to chew gum to deal with the pressure drop, but I was able to take in some amazing views of the Lapa and Santa Teresa skyline. The hairpin turns didn't accomodate the giant buses going down either side, and I thought we were going to crash many times. There was even a film crew shooting a skateboard film at one point, and I'm not sure they made it out, because they were in the middle of the road. I guess such things are commonplace, but it certainly jarred me.

Corcovado reminds me of those quintessential American landmarks, in that a picture simply doesn't cut it. The views are tremendous; you can practically see the entire city. A side note here: Rio de Janeiro may be the most geographically unique big city in the entire world. Demarcated by mountains, oceans, lakes, and giant forest areas, the city holds a variety of beautiful natural wonders, entire neighborhoods constructed on mountainsides, an isthmus (the neighborhood of Copacabana is actually on this isthmus, so at least one thing about my living situation has remained consistent), and breathtaking skylines. Oh yeah, and there's also a giant stone statue of Christ the Redeemer on top of the mountain. Apparently, a common misconception exists that like the Statue of Liberty, this guy was also constructed by the French. It is false. Brazilians made this statue, and it is a point of pride, so make sure not to make that mistake. This trip was also the first time I heard other Americans talking who weren't part of my program, and it was a little funny to hear them. I tried to glare at them incredulously so they'd think I was a local, but given that I look like I do, I doubt it worked. Watching the sun set from this lovely vista will certainly remain a highlight of my trip and an everlasting image in my life.

Upon returning home, my housemate Kegan and I went to a churrasco at the home of another student's host family. For those of you that don't know, churrasco means barbecue, and in Brazil, you're not just getting a hot dog or hamburger at a churrasco. Plate after plate of deliciously-seasoned, smoking hot meats arrive at your table at perfect intervals for maximum meat intake. My friends and I were served steak, chicken, and a delicious sausage called linguiça (my personal favorite). This was easily the best meal I've had in Brazil, not to mention the best in recent memory. In general, the food here is so much more natural and filling. Our country would do well to take a cue from Brazil and quit over-processing the food and chocking it full of chemicals and preservatives. Of course, I understand that it's all about money, but the sentiment remains the same.

Ok, enough ranting. After dinner, my friends and I took a taxi back to Lapa. This trendy neighborhood is home to a club so chic and hip that it made the top 10 nightclubs in the London Guardian. Although nightclubs aren't entirely my scene, I had to admit that this club, Rio Scenarium, had it all. On the ground floor, a live samba band delighted the crowd with upbeat, tightly interlocked rhythms and a fantastic singing duo and horn section. I tried my best to dance, and no one seemed to stare at me with abject horror, so I'll take it as a successful attempt. On the second floor, many small rooms housed tables and bars, and a giant dancehall held a forró (popular genre of Brazilian music) floor, where DJs played a fun mix of popular Brazilian tunes. When my group came up here to dance, I was a little tired, so I didn't get as into this music, but I still had fun. In general, I love how friendly all the students in the program are, and we all made sure to stay together as a group so no one felt inhibited. Most of the locals in the club were amazing dancers, and sometimes it was fun just to watch them exhibit their moves. One last observation: not having been to a huge amount of clubs in the states, I don't know if this is a thing unique to Brazil, but I noticed that upon arriving in the club, patrons are given a ticket with a list of drinks and food. When food or drink is ordered, it gets noted on this ticket by the waiter, and you pay for everything (including admission) when you leave. I found this interesting, but also a little scary, because if the ticket gets lost, you have to pay 300 reais (150 dollars)! I suppose if you have a crazy night, it might be better to lose the ticket, but who knows.

Whew. So that was Friday, and Saturday has many more experiences which I will save for a separate post. Let me know if certain things in this blog are funny, exciting, or boring, and I will take it into consideration, because while I'm trying to document my trip, I am also trying to make the blog worthwhile for readers. Até mais, amigos!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Somos De Agua

Oi, gente.

I want to clear up an issue for starters.  In case you were wondering, I have been taking shoddy, amateurish photographs with my cell phone and will probably post them on the Facebook at some point.  Not sure how to put them on this blog, but maybe I'll figure it out.  Hopefully, people who can actually take photos will put some up of me, and maybe I can show them to you via this blog. We'll see.

Now that that's out of the way, here are some interesting things I've noticed about Brazil, organized in no particular order: 

Traffic/Drivers: Most of the streets I've walked down (granted, not that many yet, but still) are one way streets, and despite this, I've had more problems knowing when to cross than anywhere in the U.S.  Let me tell you why.  For one thing, the drivers here are reckless, and not in the same way that I've seen.  I think the abandon with which they drive extends to bikers, pedestrians, and street vendors.  No one is inhibited in any way, or at least they don't show it.  Pedestrians step into the street before looking at the traffic.  Cars cut corners madly and I often wonder why I haven't seen someone's foot get crushed.  Over the past three days, I've seen bikers bike out in front of not one, not two, but three buses in heavy oncoming traffic and weave their way through the honking, but unfazed, motorists.  Additionally, the crosswalks are so offset from the street corners that it's hard to tell when to cross just by looking at the traffic.  The third, and most ridiculous, aspect is that at times both directions (two one-way streets) of traffic will have a green light.  This one makes no sense to me, and I know it's not a fluke because I've seen it happen multiple times.  Somehow, the drivers know what to do, so I guess it's ok.

Bathrooms: The toilets are fine, but the flushers are usually operated by pushing a large button against the wall.  I quickly found out that if you actually want the bowl to empty, you have to hold the button down for a while.  Most of the soap dispensers seem to dispense 9 parts water/1 part soap, making cleaning your hands a somewhat mediocre experience.  As some of you may know, soap dispensers are the pivot aspect for making/breaking a bathroom for me.  For this reason, my favorite bathroom of all time is the faculty one on the 5th floor of Humanities.  It has 2 soap dispensers for the one sink.  Don't ask me why I like this so much, but it's awesome.  Anyways, Brazil=underwhelming soap dispensers=disappointing bathrooms.  It must also be said that this isn't an actual problem.

Napkins: Similar to wax paper.

Ketchup: encouraged when eating pizza...considering trying it but a little uncertain...

Beef that looks and tastes like pork chops: Beef that looks and tastes like pork chops.

A giant fly: just flew into my bedroom and is buzzing and interrupting my train of thought.  Maybe it's time to shift gears.

4 Songs/Albums I have been listening to non-stop since I've gotten here:

1. "The End of Time" by Beyonce - Anyone who attended the 2013 senior week of UW SMC as a camper or counselor will understand why I can't get this song out of my head.

2. Port of Morrow by The Shins - I realized recently that I used to really like this band, and that their new album had been released to very good reviews.  Upon checking it out, it has become my favorite album of the month (only three days in, but still), and I especially am enjoying "Simple Song," "September," and "40 Mark Strasse."  I highly recommend this album if you like indie power pop with intelligent lyrics.

3. "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake - Another holdover from Music Clinic.  This got played at the dances and is just too catchy.

4. Selections from The Luther Collegiate Choir's 2012-2013 season - I received these recordings from a dear friend upon leaving the country, and listening to them (incredibly professional sound and great blend) makes me miss singing in choirs like I did at the end of high school.  My favorite is "David Lamentation" by Joshua Shank.

Ok, enough lists.  The first few days here have been mostly getting acquainted with the program, the neighborhood, and some customs of the locals.  Overall, I've had a very good time and have met some awesome people.  I've been taking a few naps and trying to go out when at all possible.  Yesterday, I finally ventured off the main street I live and go to school on to go to the beach, even though it hasn't been very sunny out.  My friends and I sat on the beach sipping caipirinhas (lime + sugar + ice + cachaça = delicious) and watching the locals do their thing.  A few street vendors came up to us, offering various knick-knacks.  One man had some particularly interesting things to offer us.  I will now relate the conversation (or an approximation to the best of my knowledge):

Some guy: Heyyyyyyy guys, you want souvenir, you wanna buy something? (in very broken English)

Me and my friends: Uh, no thanks (não, obrigado)

Some guy: Ok, ok, ok, Americans?  I got everything you want!  You want weed?  You want purple haze?  You want mushrooms?  I got everything!

Me and my friends: não, obrigado...

Some guy: You wanna come to Lapa (a neighborhood known for festive nightlife)?  Lots of parties, dancing, hot chicks!  I'll be there! (As if that is some sort of attraction to the tourists that want you to just go away...)

Me and my friends: não, obrigado...

Some guy: Ok, ok, ok, you here for a while?  What are your names?

We mumbled our names and then thankfully he went away.  I'm guessing that this type of conversation will be happening frequently, given that I look conspicuously American.  Honestly, though, it hasn't proved too much of a hassle so far.  While people definitely know that I'm not from here, they are very accommodating, and I have discovered that many know a bit of English.  This is a nice crutch to have, but I also am trying to speak mostly Portuguese, so usually they will speak to me in English and I will try to respond in Portuguese.  It kinda works, I guess.

This weekend, I hope to visit Lapa or Teijuca, where there are some samba schools.  On Friday, the group is going to Corcovado (giant mountain with Jesus statue) so that will be fun.  Over all, a somewhat superfluous blog post, but I felt I had to document my first impressions.

On a different note, please add me on skype if you want to check in personally! My username is jacobwolbert and if you give me advance notice, I can try to be around for a bit in the afternoon/evening/weekends.